Canadians dry spell in hockey medals continue

Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- There is some debate about where hockey was invented.

People in Montreal say that the first game was played March 3, 1875 on a downtown skating rink by some students from McGill University. People in Halifax say people in Montreal have it wrong, that the game was born right there in Nova Scotia. People in Kingston, Ontario, say that Montreal and Halifax are crazy.

You may notice that these people and these cities all have one thing in common.

They're Canadian.

"We're taught from a very young age in this country how important hockey is," Wayne Gretzky said. "Canadians live and die with hockey."

And since 1952, they have been dying every four years.

Fifty years.

No gold.

In the 32 previous years, the Canadians dominated, winning six of seven golds. At one point, they went 16 games without a loss, squeezing out a 33-0 victory against Switzerland.

Since then, nothing.

OK, two silvers and three bronzes.

But to Canadians, that might as well be nothing.

Meanwhile, the United States has won two golds. The Soviets/Russians have won eight. And the Swedes and Czechs have won the last two.

The Canadians? Well, they have won the World Series. They've won Oscars. They've won gold for running and swimming; for skiing, bobsled, biathlon, moguls, snowboarding, speed skating and curling.

Now they even have a gold in pairs figure skating.

But as much as Canadians have fallen head over skates for Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, you have to know that they would yank those gold medals off their necks faster than you can say, "Eh," if it would produce a goal for the national hockey team in the next five days.

Fifty years. It's tempting to say that it's like the English not winning Wimbledon or the Scots not winning the British Open. But it's not the same. They don't dominate those sports the way the Canadians dominate hockey.

Look at the NHL. Yes, it has migrated to places like Miami and Phoenix. Yet, 60 percent of the players still are from the land that gave us Mike Meyers, Michael J. Fox and Celine Dion. Not that those celebs would even have a shot at winning a popularity contest in Edmonton.

Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are from Canada.

Both are here in Utah.

Gretzky put this team together. Lemieux, who for decades has refused to play for his country, agreed to be captain, which he admits is partly why during the last few weeks his Pittsburgh Penguins went into a tailspin. His mind already was in Salt Lake City.

"My priority this year was to play in the Olympics," he said after arriving here. "To bring back the gold medal to Canada would be something very special. It's finally here and it should be a lot of fun."

Fun? Nobody here has more pressure on him or her than Canadian coach Pat Quinn and his players. Not Michelle Kwan. Not Apolo Ohno. Not the U.S. hockey team.

"The pressure's on Canada," U.S. coach Herb Brooks said.

It's hard to think of an American comparison. It certainly isn't our 46-year medal drought in bobsledding. Our politicians aren't going to call for Congressional hearings if the streak grows to 50 years.

But that is what happened in Canada after the hockey team placed fourth in Nagano, behind the Czech Republic, Russia and Finland. Politicians convened a "hockey summit" to determine what went wrong.

Fun? Yeah, this will be a blast for the Canadians.

If they win gold.

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